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Mid-session legislative stir-fry

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The Legislature is still working away at improving or ruining our lives. I discussed theoretical bills in previous columns. Now let’s look at actual bills, especially those related to voting.
Gerrymandering: I wrote that this is the time to pass a constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering once and for all, because nobody knows who will have the advantage in 2031. The current redistricting commission allowed legislators to put a thumb on the scales.
House Joint Resolution 1 would make our redistricting commission truly independent. I agree that legislators and parties should have nothing to do with drawing their own district lines. Voters would surely approve this amendment, but I’m not sure legislators will put it on the ballot.
Ranked choice voting: Regular readers know that I am a critic of the current plurality-winner voting system, and a proponent of majority-winner systems such as ranked choice. The current system too often selects the worst candidates, and encourages citizens to vote strategically rather than for their favorite candidate.
Apparently, I am not alone. Senate Joint Resolution 7 proposes an open primary in which candidates of all parties compete, similar to Alaska. The top five primary candidates would compete in a ranked-choice general election, in which voters rank multiple candidates in order of preference.
If ranked choice had been used in Republican primaries in 2016, Donald Trump would probably not have been the nominee. He had more supporters than other Republicans, but far from a majority, and he wouldn’t have received many second-place votes.
In the general election, the second-place votes of Libertarians and Greens would have been counted. Probably more people would have opposed Trump than opposed Hillary Clinton, although who knows? Perhaps the two most disliked candidates in the nation wouldn’t have been running against each other.
I want to vote for this amendment, but will legislators put it on the ballot? Probably not. They may need more current system failure fi rst. Independent voting in primaries: If SJR 7 fails, we have a lesser solution in SB 175, HB 54 or SB 73. All three bills make it easier for independents to vote in primaries. Currently, we independents have to temporarily change to a major party, and then back again. Under these bills, we could simply request the major party ballot we want.
Voting rights protections: HB 4 is controversial. A similar bill failed in last year’s 30-day session because Republicans fi libustered at the end of the session. You can bet the Democratic majority will move this bill through in time for a vote.
Democrats and Republicans both want voting reform. Democrats want everyone who is eligible to vote. Republicans want no one who is ineligible to vote. Democrats suspect that Republicans really want to suppress some eligible voters. Republicans suspect Democrats really want to allow some ineligible voters.
A more positive way to look at the goals of each party is that Republicans want to make sure everyone voting is well-informed (meaning Republican). Voting intelligently takes thinking about it all year. Democrats want everyone who is eligible to vote, with the assumption that most people not voting now will vote Democratic.
I tend to lean with the Republicans. I don’t want more stupid voters, and I’m not convinced new voters will be informed or Democratic. But I also suspect that some Republicans want to suppress opposing voters.
Actually, the two goals are not incompatible. You could write a bill to safeguard against invalid votes and enable all valid votes. But that’s not HB 4, written by Democrats to enable more voters.
It enables Native voters by changing requirements related to the spreadout nature of reservations. I like this part, and think it will pass. It enables uninformed voters by registering everyone eligible (unless they object) when they interact with the state’s Motor Vehicle Division. I don’t support this. People should have to take a positive step to register. But they also have to take a positive step to vote, and I doubt this will make a big difference.
It enables more ex-felons to vote, by allowing them to register when they are freed from incarceration rather than after parole or probation. This will probably not make a great difference. The people who want to reform their lives will register, and those lost in crime won’t.
It makes voting easier by changing the rules for ballot drop boxes and absentee ballots. These details will change in committee, and a revised version will pass.
Republicans will oppose most of these changes and vote futilely against the bill. They should direct their energy to adding more security features, rather than opposing enabling features.
As I said in my last column, there’s a lot more to discuss about the session. Stay tuned.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Southwest Word Fiesta™ or its steering committee.

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Bruce McKinney

Bruce McKinney is a Silver City business owner, close observer of local government and occasional troublemaker. In his column, which appears every other Wednesday, he tries to address big questions from a local perspective. Send comments and ideas to
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